“So, how do the metaphysical views of Thomas Aquinas manifest in the modern Catholic Church? Do you think they need any re-evaluation?”
“How long does it take for people who know they have a socially off-beat identity to show it to others? Should they? What impact does keeping it under wraps have?”
“Is reincarnation a valid concept at the metaphysical level, irrespective of empirical evidence?”
These are not three questions that I pulled from any of my classes, rather, I heard all of them on campus, as topics of vibrant group discussions. Note the openness, breadth and variety of the questions; some of them are serious and academic, some of them are rigorous formulations of ordinary social problems, some of them are dissecting current trends in spirituality, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they enable vibrant dialogue involving multiple perspectives that allow participants to glean insight they would not have otherwise had.
The notion that Tufts students are “intellectually playful” really is true: the most casual of small-talk discussions has in my experience often segued into one of these group discussions, and this is precisely because I think students here are open-minded about conversational direction. I think in general, we don’t subscribe to the notion that constraints on conversations that are too “nerdy” are necessary, because we see life itself as worth thinking about and living. It’s all the more fun when you try to understand what you’re going through collaboratively as you do it! The discussions I witnessed on the questions I listed above were dynamic and humorous, and everyone involved was a good listener who actually built on what other people said.
Tufts students value understanding others deeply, including the nuances of their perspectives. No matter the level of introversion or extroversion each student might have, you are guaranteed to have a good conversation at some point and learn a lot. For instance, I learned a lot about how Thomistic theology’s cosmological-scale focus does not necessarily discount its stipulations on more precise notes of Catholic doctrine, because the belief is that the universe works as a coherent system where natural law ought to guide everything down to the most fundamental level. The “off-beat” identity question was interesting because that particular discussion was a vibrant common room discussion that involved a range of introverted and extroverted personalities: the introverts tended to maintain that people ought to show their identity (no matter how quirky), only to those who have a level of trust, whereas the extroverts were actually more likely to frame identity as something more fluid - varying situation-to-situation, and so normative “oughts” were not seen as seriously regarding expression.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion for me was the one on reincarnation, which was with my roommate. It was 3AM, and we were walking outside. He asked me, “what do you think of the concept of reincarnation?”. I was delighted to answer this question, because my take is not the standard “it doesn’t conform to scientific evidence” explanation. As someone who raised both a Hindu and a Buddhist (by my mother, who has some attachment to that faith), I had encountered Dharmakirti's transcendental argument, which stipulated that the only way that the Buddhist doctrine of the universe, which is rooted in no person having any identity and anything related to identity returning to the universe could make sense was for each identity to eventually reincarnate as a distinct entity, thus showing that “souls'' move to live other lives. My take is that Dharmakirti makes a reasoning mistake: it’s not necessarily the case that people, when they die, manifest back as other people! Under a materialist, dualist or monist (rather than idealist) point of view (which Buddhism does not clarify as much, otherwise my rebuttal would be difficult to make), this point is particularly contentious. My roommate listened to me thoroughly and assented to my reasoning, but said he personally believed in it.
This ability to dive deeply with anyone, be listened to, and discuss important topics is something I love about Tufts, and I will love it for the next 4 years. I can’t wait to see what comes next.